Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 1/26/01
Children of a
1986 (2000) - Paramount
review by Dan Kelly of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/D
Specs and Features
118 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical
trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (17 chapters),
languages: English and French (DD mono), subtitles: English for the
deaf and hard of hearing
When it comes to
watching some of the more recent films (as in the past twenty years)
that have come to be known as classics, there are those that I've
rushed to watch... and those I've made little effort to see.
Children of a Lesser God falls
in to the latter category. To me, it was the kind of movie that was
designed to get my parents into the theatres. It's not that I
thought it was a bad film, but it's one of those movies that came
out in my teen years that held no interest for me. There were no
aliens, no masked killers, no wild shoot-outs and no
Saturday Night Live stars.
Now, however, I can say that I've watched it. And I can also say
that I liked it. But outside of a pair of fine performances by the
two leads, I really didn't see anything in Children
of a Lesser God that would make it a true "classic".
It's a good, entertaining story, but this kind of thing has been
James Leeds (William Hurt) is arriving as the new teacher at a
school for the deaf on an island in Washington state. Once there, he
meets with some initial hesitation on the part of the students.
They're used to teachers who aren't going to challenge their way of
learning. For one thing, Leeds insists that they learn to speak and
read lips, to complement their use of sign language - something they
resist at first. Naturally, they soon learn to meet him halfway.
It's not an entirely original variation on the student/teacher
theme, but the story is handled with sensitivity and a genuine
interest in the subject matter that makes its weaknesses less
And then there's the bigger part of the movie - the love story.
Leeds starts to fall for Sarah Norman (Marlee Matlin), who was once
the best student at the school. But now, many years after she
graduated, she's working there as a janitor, and is lovingly
referred to as a "pain in the ass" by the school's Dean,
Dr. Franklin (Philip Bosco). In many ways, that's exactly what she
is. Her temper often gets the best of her, and she drives away
anyone that tries to get close to her. Leeds is able to see past her
anger and confusion, but brings out the worst in Sarah when he
insists that she too learn to speak to communicate with him. When
Sarah's resistance finally comes to a head in the film's climax, the
strength of Matlin's performance really shines. It's a
heartbreaking, disturbing piece of work that resonates in your mind
long after the movie ends.
As effective as this part of the story is, it doesn't really break
any new cinematic ground. It's your basic "boy gets girl, boy
loses girl, boy gets girl back" type of drama. Still, it's a
tried and true formula, and the polished work of Hurt and Matlin
make it worth watching. Hurt is a versatile actor, who brings warmth
and depth to his character, and the filmmakers manage to avoid most
of the pitfalls of the "strong man breaks wild woman"
cliche. Matlin (in her Oscar-winning screen debut) is also very
good. In Sarah, she creates a character of many layers that easily
stands up to Hurt's work. Together, their chemistry is undeniable.
But in the end, I think Children of a
Lesser God's focus on two separate storylines prevents
either one from fully developing and becoming completely engaging.
Paramount has prepared a good-looking DVD presentation of
Children of a Lesser God.
First of all, the film has been given an anamorphic transfer that's
very good. Color saturation is accurate, with little bleed. Flesh
tones and black levels are also solid, if a little muted. Some light
edge enhancement rears its ugly head every now and again, and
there's also some grain and age-related issues with the print. But
this is, otherwise, a good DVD picture. The film's soundtrack is
included in it's original monaural form (in both English and
French). It's a decent mix, with clean dialogue, that lacks the hiss
and static that is sometimes apparent in other mono soundtracks. It
also has a fairly full sound to it, without the usual tinny
aftertaste. It's not outstanding, but it gets the job done.
The blurb on the back of the DVD packaging calls
Children of a Lesser God "one
of the most critically acclaimed films of the 80s." If that's
the case, Paramount certainly might have included a little more in
the way of bonus material. All you'll find here is the film's
theatrical trailer (with the God-awful tagline "Love has a
language all its own"), which is at least presented with a
decent anamorphic transfer of its own. Trailers, chapter stops and
interactive menus are all good, but I think it might be time for
studios to stop calling them special features. Maybe it's time for a
little box on the back movie-only DVD packaging that says, "standard
features". I don't mind the occasional movie-only disc, but if
you're going to call a film "classic", back it up with
some REAL special features.
Children of a Lesser God is a
good movie, with some terrific performances. On DVD, it's a basic
disc that does what it needs to - present the movie in decent
quality - but not much more. Unless your a big fan, it's probably a
good renter. Still, you at least have to give Paramount props for
digging deeper into their better catalog titles and releasing them